Melanie Kiechle introduces us to the 19th-century world of smell detectives, where the nose reigned supreme and cities mapped their stench patterns; Sam Kean tells how gases can have a profound effect on us—from knocking us out to making us laugh, and even causing the French Revolution. Plus, top off our exploration into the sensory world of invisible forces with an excerpt from a new book on all the light we cannot see.
Go beyond the episode:
- Melanie Kiechle’s Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America
- Sam Kean’s Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us
- Read an excerpt from Bob Berman’s new book about invisible light, Zapped
- Check out a modern-day smell map of the City of Light (and odor), from graphic designer Kate McLean
- Live in Pittsburgh? Download Smell PGH, the app that tracks pollution odors (read more here)
- Read more about the volcanic eruption that led to the French Revolution
- Flip through the scanned pages of Humphry Davy’s book on his laughing gas experiments, which could use a funnier title: Researches, chemical and philosophical chiefly concerning nitrous oxide, or diphlogisticated nitrous air, and its respiration
Tune in every two weeks to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.
Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org.